CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Dark cloud over Lumley doc after glider tragedy

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Dark cloud over Lumley doc after glider tragedy

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Dark cloud over Lumley’s eco trip as human swan flies into tragedy

Joanna Lumley And The Human Swan

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The Outlaws 

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Everybody wants to save the world. But if Ab Fab’s Patsy and her eco-doc proved anything, it is that we’re going about things the wrong way.

Unwieldy, underpowered and inefficient, the electric motor that powered flying adventurer Sacha Dench’s paraglider looked worse than useless — a terrible advert for alternative energy sources.

That has nothing to do with the catastrophe which blighted Joanna Lumley And The Human Swan (ITV). As filming ended in September, Sacha was seriously injured in a mid-air collision that killed her cameraman, Dan Burton.

Joanna looked grim-faced as she revealed the news in a piece to camera at the start of the one-off documentary, aired to coincide with the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow this week. She has confessed that her initial instinct, when she learned of Dan’s death, was to scrap the film. Instead, at the urging of his family, it was shown as a tribute to his dedication.

If Ab Fab’s Patsy and her eco-doc proved anything, it is that we’re going about saving the world the wrong way

But the disaster cast a dark cloud over the hour-long programme. Every time Sacha struggled for take-off, or made a sprawled emergency landing, we seemed to see the tragedy foreshadowed.

The green campaigner — dubbed the Human Swan after she joined endangered Bewick swans on their migration from Russia to the UK — was attempting this time to fly right around the British Isles as part of the pioneering Round Britain Climate Challenge.

But her electric motor kept cutting out, threatening to send her plummeting to the ground. ‘I’ve never been so anxious in my life,’ gasped Joanna, watching through her fingers as Sacha struggled to stay aloft.

The propeller engine strapped to her back looked like a giant office fan. But it weighed a crippling 35kg (77lb, or five-and-a-half stone), most of which was the battery… which lasted for just half an hour.

A van had to trundle after her by road, bringing replacement power packs every 30 miles or so. ‘I can hardly pick the battery up, it really is heavy,’ Joanna grunted.

How this technology is meant to replace fossil fuel in aeroplanes, she didn’t even attempt to say.

Paraglider pilot Dan Burton who sadly died in a crash near Unapool in the Scottish Highlands

And it’s not just impractical for aircraft. What about heavy machinery, diggers and the like, on building sites? Those things need to run all day — and they can’t stop every hour for another battery the size of a family car. What’s Bob the Builder going to do — plug his dumper truck into the mains?

No one doubts the planet needs an alternative to fossil fuels. Joanna didn’t question whether cumbersome, short-lived batteries were the answer, because she obviously lacked all expertise.

The documentary, filmed at such a heavy human cost, did a good job of summarising some of the ecological problems around our coastline, from erosion to plastic waste. What it demonstrated most clearly, however, is how very far we are from switching Britain to battery power.

Joanna did stop off in Bristol, which seems to be obligatory on all primetime shows this autumn. New drama Showtrial is set there, as is The Outlaws (BBC1), a comedy-drama about petty criminals doing community service by cleaning up a derelict building.

The chief problem is that none of them is very likeable. Writer Stephen Merchant plays Greg, a solicitor arrested in his car with a prostitute. Eleanor Tomlinson is a social media junkie, in every sense, with a vicious temper, and Christopher Walken is an alcoholic fraudster who talks like a Prohibition-era gangster.

There’s barely any story. Last week someone stole some money and hid it, this week a couple of other people found it. We’re supposed to be drawn into the characters’ lives. But I’d cross the road to avoid most of them.

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